No fresh aid package for U.S. farmers planned for now, Perdue says

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Washington | Reuters — The Trump administration does not have any active plans to provide more aid to farmers at the moment but can consider the option if the trade negotiations and weak commodity prices linger, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said on Tuesday.

“We have been very clear to the agriculture community that we did not anticipate nor should they anticipate a 2019 Market Facilitation Program,” Perdue told reporters, referring to nearly $12 billion in aid the administration rolled out to farmers last year to compensate for their losses from U.S. trade conflicts with other countries (all figures US$).

On Monday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the administration was ready to provide more aid if necessary. But Perdue said he was not aware of any such plans at the moment.

“As these trade negotiations go longer and prices remain low, we will look at that as we go forward,” he said. “But we don’t want to raise expectations that anything’s under consideration at this point,” he added.

A constituency that helped carry Republican President Donald Trump to victory in 2016, U.S. farmers have been among the hardest hit from his trade policies that led to tariffs with key trading partners such as China, Canada and Mexico.

While farmers have largely remained supportive of Trump, many have called for an imminent end to trade disputes, which helped propel farm debt to the highest levels in decades and worsened credit conditions for the rural economy.

Beijing imposed tariffs last year on imports of U.S. agricultural goods, including soybeans, grain sorghum and pork as retribution for U.S. levies. Soybean exports to China have plummeted over 90 per cent and sales of U.S. soybeans elsewhere failed to make up for the loss.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture had previously ruled out a new round of aid for 2019. As of March, more than $8 billion was paid out as part of last year’s program. On Monday, the department said it had extended the deadline to apply to May 17.

— Reporting for Reuters by Humeyra Pamuk.

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